Causal world doesn’t allow for whyever

•November 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

There are five Ws that we are taught as children, namely who, what where, when, and why (for now we’ll leave out how). On their own, these words are often use to start a interrogative sentence however when mated with the word “ever” they become a lexicon wild card or in computer science lingo, a metasyntactic variable. It allows for time, place, things and person to be fungible and commutative. As an example, we say “whoever comes first in the race today will advance to the national competition”. Whoever implies anyone as though the statement of action can be actualized by any of the individual racers. In other words, the truth of the statement is not depended on who the individual is, and this demonstrates the fungibility of the individual that may become the winner. The same goes for whatever, wherever, and whenever, but have you noticed that whyever is conspicuously missing from the list?

Before discussing the impossibility of whyever, I’d like to discuss the transitive and associate nature of time, which is reflected in the word whenever. Although history records specific events at specific date and time, we also understand that

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When Justice isn’t enough

•November 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Several years ago, a colleague from the office was going through a very acrimonious divorce and almost daily the topic of conversation was his divorce. In the beginning I felt a strong empathy for what he was going through. The empathy was short lived and replaced with indifference and sometime annoyance.

The problem was that he was so consumed by the injustice of the divorce proceeding (needless to say, I only heard his side of the story) his speech was constantly filled with hate and poison.  He kept ranting on about how the family courts in Canada was not about justice.  One day, I got so tired of listening to him that I said “There’s no justice in Canada, only a legal system, so get over it!”.  I said this rhetorically without giving it much thought since my sole aim was to shut him up.

Many years later what I said about justice came back to haunt me.  The idea of justice has been on my mind again and it’s made me regret what I’d said.  What I should have said was “Justice isn’t enough, we need a legal system”.  I don’t mean to degenerate justice.  After all, it is one of the four cardinal virtues.  What I mean by this is that justice seeks a fair remedy or a fair punishment, but it’s completely blind to the other great virtue, compassion.  In some ways, our legal system has to reflect how we seek justice with our own friends and family, and often it’s complicated by solidarity, our own complicity, and negligence.   What makes the western legal system great is that it’s liberally tinged with mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.    I have no doubt that a great part of this ethos comes from the Christian theology of redemption, but I think it deeper and older than that.  I think it comes from the fact we (like other primates) are hardwired to feeling empathy, and in doing so we create cultures that codifies this type of behavior and expectation.  We all know the story of how eye for an eye leads to a village full of blinds, and by the same reasoning we would not be here 7 billion strong had we not sought a system which was more than justice.

When I read Merchant of Venice in high school the famous speech by Portia struck me as being poetic but not much more.  I realize how little progress has been made in 400 years since the idea was so eloquently shared with the world.

The Quality of Mercy

 The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown.

His scepter shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.

But mercy is above this sceptered sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;

It is an attribute of God himself;

And earthly power doth then show like God’s

When mercy seasons justice.

William Shakespeare
1600

Need vs. Want – muddling the distinction

•November 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I was having a conversation with my teenage daughter last night about how she plans to save up for a MacBook and she was seeking advice as to whether spending an extra $400 would be a worthwhile for upgrading to i7 from i5. Without much forethought I answered “yes, of course!”, and with that answer she clicked on the “select” button on the Apple online store and went through the motion of buying her dream laptop. I then asked her whether there was any problem with the Dell laptop that I had bought for her last year. She has been using it almost daily to do her school work and for the usual teenage things like YouTube and Facebook, and I thought that she was very happy with it. She nonchalantly answered “no, there’s nothing wrong with, it’s just not an Apple”. So began our lengthy conversation about need vs want. It an argument made by sociologist, economist, clergyman, and foremost by parents. It’s such an old adage, I was surprise that I had to talk to her about the virtues of prudence and temperance when it came to the things that we want.

If you Google “Need vs Want”, almost all the articles talk about the distinction as if it was self-evident. Need is the necessary things which we can’t or shouldn’t do without, and want is that which isn’t necessary and things that we can do without. I ask her, “what can you do with a MacBook that you can’t do with the Dell laptop?”. In retrospect, the question should have been rhetorical but knowing that my daughter didn’t have the under-the-hood understanding of computers, it was meant as a challenge, hoping that she would see that they were essentially identical. What I wasn’t prepared for was her response. She said with a smile of excitement, “with an Apple I can take it to Starbucks”. For a split second, I thought she didn’t realize that her Dell laptop also had the ability to use free WiFi but just as suddenly I had a sinking feeling that she was thinking of something totally different. Something that isn’t displayed when you click on “Tech Specs”.

Depending on our social, economic and cultural bias, we have a very different notion of what is need and want. Does my daughter really need a laptop? Many of her friends and their parents would say that having a computer at home is a need, but for a boy living in rural Somalia it’s an absolutely absurdity. Just the same, a loving Somalian parent can be perceived as want by a neglected foster child in Canada while they would see it as what every child must have. Economics play a large role in determining what is culturally acceptable to be classified as need or want, and in this sense it’s not really a question of morality or virtue, but a necessary cultural rubric design to keep in check our human nature to covet and to feel shame. And what of aesthetics? Is beauty something that we need in our lives or is it just fluff? Do any of us really need clothes dyed in rich colours of modern chemistry, or is it that if we all collectively indulge in something, then it becomes a de facto need?

How we feel about ourselves and the esteem that we enjoy from our peers is not only a want but a need since it is linked directly to our survival (perhaps much more so when we use to live in a small band). The fact that my daughter wants an Apple laptop so that she would be perceived by others, including strangers as being socially and culturally relevant, is a fulfillment of that instinct to survive and secure her place in this world that is becoming evermore impersonal. While many would say that my daughter is acting like a spoiled child, and I’m not prepared to defend her on this point, she’s far from being contrived or shallow. She’s acting with honesty, the kind that has been whipped out of us.

In the immortal words of John Lenon, “all you need is love“.   Ask yourselves, do you need love?

Hello world!

•October 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I love sharing new ideas and even more I love learning about new things, especially those things that help me understand how the world works and that includes us, the 7 billion who without questioning think of themselves as unique and special.  I get a real kick out of being disabused and gaining a more truer and more compassionate ways of looking at the world.

I love words.  I spend prolonged periods of time thinking about words until the meaning disappears as quickly as it came.  The illusive nature of what words mean or symbolizes seem to spiral into another endless recursion of metaphors.  I love blurring what is fiction and what is real, only because it sobers me to to the realization that truth exists only in the mind and the uniqueness of each of our mind means that we are all foreigners to each other.   “We live as we dream…alone”  Joseph Conrad.